An anomaly that occurred late into the launch of a Rocket Lab Electron vehicle resulted in the loss of all seven satellites aboard the rocket.
The Rocket Lab “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen” Electron mission successfully lifted off from Māhia at 21:19 UTC on July 4. Following liftoff, the rocket cleared the tower, completed its first stage burn and separation, and successfully ignited the single vacuum Rutherford engine powering the second stage.
Just under six minutes into the flight, the onboard livestreamed video of the mission froze. Although the team appeared to be continuing to receive data from the rocket, the livestream was not restored. The broadcast ended without indication of a larger problem and the Rocket Lab host asking viewers to check the launch provider’s social media channels for updates on the mission.
The result of the mission followed over an hour later with a tweet from the official Rocket Lab handle revealing the total “loss of the vehicle.” A few minutes later, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck followed up with an apology to customers with payloads aboard the rocket.
“We lost the flight late into the mission,” tweeted Beck. “I am incredibly sorry that we failed to deliver our customers [sic] satellites today. Rest assured we will find the issue, correct it and be back on the pad soon.”
According to a Rocket Lab press release, the launch provider is “working closely with the FAA to investigate the anomaly.” The investigation will seek to identify the root cause of the failure in order to correct any underlying issues and return the vehicle to flight.
Saturday’s failure was the first failure following 11 consecutive successful missions. It is only the second failure aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket with its maiden mission suffering a similar fate late into its mission.
However, when you consider the SpaceX Falcon 9 has suffered just one failure and one partial failure in over 86 missions, a record bettered by the United Launch Alliance Atlas V, the Electron’s launch record starts to appear spotty.